Latin America

Magical Guatemala

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2009

This Central America country offers action-packed getaways shrouded in Mayan tradition.

going active Hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, ziplining and canyoning are many of the active attractions that clients enjoy during a vacation exploring Guatemala, whether in the highlands or the rainforest. And by the sea, Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific Ocean is a leading destination for sportfishing, with records broken every year in numbers of marlin and sailfish catches.

Few tour programs offer as many active options as the Guatemalan Road Less Traveled, Lost World Adventures’ 9-night multi-activity program. Following a first night stay in Antigua, the action starts the next day with a local market visit in San Juan Comalapa before heading to the remote highland area called Alaska for hiking or biking local paths and trails en-route to Quetzaltenango for a 2-night stay. Participants will enjoy a full day in and around the Chicabal Volcano, including an hour-long walk up to the rim and down into the crater, whose lake is a sacred place for the Maya; a local shaman performs a blessing ritual for travelers at the water’s edge. Next, clients will bike into the Almolonga Valley and visit its celebrated vegetable market, and continue on 4WD through the tropical lowlands, crossing rivers, ravines, hanging bridges and local coffee farms. Lake Atitlan is the next 2-night stop, and highlights include kayaking from village to village, and a hike on the sacred Cerro de Oro hill, as well as touring among the Tzutuhil Maya settlements and markets. The next stop is a 2-day stay in Antigua with a hike up the active Pacaya Volcano; a visit to a working coffee farm; and a tour of the town’s colonial treasures. The tour’s final destination is the El Peten Rainforest, where travelers enjoy a zipline adventure, a jungle trek to the ceremonial center of Ceibal in time for sunset, and a day exploring Tikal—walking from plaza to plaza and climbing the staircases of many of the Mayan temples and pyramids. The cost is $3,622 pp dbl for two persons traveling together; $2,950 pp dbl for a party of four.

For clients who like their action packed into a stay-put itinerary, there are all kinds of activities available when staying-put at the Filadelfia Coffee Resort & Spa, just outside colonial Antigua. Set in the heart of a 900-acre working coffee plantation and farmlands with beautiful views over Agua Volcano, the deluxe resort offers lovely accommodations in 20 units of spacious, double rooms and suites—all with balconies, as well as a distinguished French restaurant and, of course, a coffee shop. Other facilities include a pool, tennis court, gym and jacuzzi (it does not, however have a dedicated spa, despite its name). Coffee tours here are expertly planned, and for more organized action, take a ride 6,000 ft. up the mountain by mule, walk back down through the forest, which protects dozens of bird species; ride the ropes on canyoning excursions; or take a zipline canopy tour. Depending on the season, nightly rates (including tax and service) are from $195 for a superior double, from $347 for a master suite.

highland markets mania For travelers who love to immerse themselves in the country’s colorful culture, there is no corner of Central America more fascinating than Guatemala’s highland villages whose residents are living proof that they are direct descendants of the Quiche, Mam and Cakchiquel people. Each wears distinguishing dress, speaks its own Mayan dialect, observes special fiestas and creates crafts particular to their traditions. Weekly markets are the places to be for the panorama of today’s Mayan people…and, of course, to shop.

Latin American Escapes’ Guatemala Markets offers a comprehensive 7-night circuit of the highlands, including markets on and off the beaten path. The first night is spent in Guatemala City, with a city sightseeing tour before driving to Antigua for the second night and touring the colonial town’s most interesting churches, convents and monasteries. Travelers then head for the archaeological site of Iximche, en-route to Lake Atitlan, with a trip by boat to the craft village of Santiago Atitlan. Another night is spent in Quetzaltenango, visiting the nearby animal market of San Francisco El Alto, the bright yellow baroque church of San Andres Xecul, and the enormous vegetable market in Almolonga. Huehuetenango is the next overnight stop, the gateway to a drive to the traditional village and picture-perfect highland market of Todos Santos. The grand finale stay is in Chichicastenango, on a Sunday of course, for its famous open-air market, spreading out from the candle-lit Santo Tomas Church favored by the local Indians. The trip begins on Mondays in Guatemala City, and includes a choice of first or deluxe class accommodations with breakfast, all overland transport, sightseeing and airport transfers. The cost starts at $ 775 pp dbl.